So there we have it. On Friday morning, July 22 my NASA e-mail subscription announced “The End of an Era”. Coming from NASA that’s official. The photo says it all. Atlantis had landed to its resting place the previous day.
On the day of the launch, a classmate had texted me from the Cape “I can’t believe I’m here to see this!”
On Thursday, my old high school friend and fb buddy who retired back home to Cocoa Beach informed us through her status ” Woke up in time to hear the final double sonic booms from Atlantis. Then took my Dad to the airport. He was part of the first shuttle launch (and many more) and here for the landing of the last one. An amazing and historic time.”
Still, another classmate wrote a memorial tribute to our memories of the space program growing up in Cocoa Beach. That tribute struck a cord with me. My younger sister had attended Freedom 7 Elementary and my other siblings and I had attended Cocoa Beach Junior-Senior High School. With his article other memories crept up…I remembered filing outside the school building with the rest of the student body to witness launches during the late ’60’s. How privileged we were to have lived among a community of people who supported the space program daily!
From my computer, I had questions. “So will my NASA subscriptions come to an end?” I wondered. I probed NASA’s site for the answer to this question and my biggest question “What’s next?”. As I skimmed through a 64 page report on Space Operations, there was a line on page 19, in Outcome 5.5 that had a familiar ring to it. It was the language grant writers use to convince the readers they deserve funding because they can prove they will become self-sustaining. Somehow I have never pictured NASA that way…they were/are “NASA centric“. (Maven Research, July 21, 2011) They were/are a primary leader in space exploration. They produced spin-offs that we enjoy today. They captured the dreams of scientists and engineers belonging to our past and future. They honored our country with triumphs and tragically, several paid the ultimate sacrifice. Their influence has been so profound, I can tell you where I was and how I heard the news of the fire at the Cape in ’67, the Challenger tragedy of ’81, and the Columbia tragedy of ’03.
In the book We Reach the Moon, in a chapter entitled “Gathering The Team”, we can read about Man’s colossal effort to reach the moon. Let us not forget how difficult it was to reach the moon, and the technological challenges that had to be overcome. John Noble Wilford writes,
Hotspur, the man of action in Shakespeare’s King Henry IV, Part I, talked a good flight hundreds of years ago:
“By Heaven, methinks it were an easy leap
To Pluck bright honour from the pale-fac’d moon.”
“But during the eight years of preparations for Apollo, I never met an engineer or astronaut, construction worker or computer programmer, metal worker or project manager, who would agree.
“Man’s first voyage to the moon was a team effort involving directly some 40,000 people and about 20,000 industrial and university contractors. Among them were some of the country’s foremost scientists and engineers. It could not have been otherwise. The distant moon would not give up its secrets easily.”
Many may remember July 20, 1969 when two astronauts first set foot on the moon. Forty-two years and one day later workers for NASA marked the MLG (main landing gear) resting place of the Atlantis. Forty-two years and two days later local Houston news anchors were commenting on the bittersweet. Thousands of jobs were lost and Mission Control was shut down. Amazingly, I found an article showing some area businessmen and locals at the Cape who remain optimistic .
At the beginning of that amazing decade of the 60’s and journeys into space, I remember my mother brought our black and white television set to school back in the spring of 1961! She asked my sixth grade teacher if she could bring it so my classmates and me could witness Alan Shepard’s launch into space. Why my class out of her four children? I think Mom recognized Mrs. Foreman was the one teacher who would agree to it and understand its potential impact. She was right. I do remember.
The Smithsonian, our nation’s attic, houses the National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC. For years the ancient dinosaurs across the mall in our Museum of Natural History have stood in direct contrast to the futuristic rockets coming from our dreams of space exploration. I hope that this contemporary exhibit continues to be a museum reflecting our spirit for exploration and problem solving, a work in progress.
I thought I’d share some facts and memorabilia from my family’s attic with you. Since these are the “artifacts” and stuff of recent history, I think they should be shared so we do not forget.
In July of 1969, I had a summer job waiting tables at the Holiday Inn across from Johnson Space Flight Center. With the impending moon shot I looked forward to being one of the many locals who had the opportunity to receive the many visitors who were to descend on the area. I met several interesting people that summer. One brief acquaintance still is memorable. He was a Portuguese reporter from Angola who I invited to our home for dinner after the moonwalk. After dinner he pulled out a watercolor kit and paper and painted the scene below inspired from what had just happened the previous Sunday.
Rusty Schweickart presented my dad with a patch of his Apollo IX mission mounted on an autographed swatch of space-cloth.
This is the headline that appeared on the July 21, 1969 Monday morning Houston Post. You cannot see it plainly, but I’d like to point out that Monday is jubilantly written MOON-DAY.
We know the fate of Apollo 13. The following front pages came from the Spaceland News which served the spaceland area and manned spacecraft center.
This Soviet pin was given to me by the parent of a student who worked for NASA. He traveled to the then USSR frequently. It commemorates the joint Apollo/Soyuz mission. The memory of the mission prompts me to agree with P.J. O’Rourke who writes the article “One giant leap backwards”in the NationalStandard.com. He writes, “Looks like the Russians won the space race after all.” However, that would sound like sour grapes. If you read his article I think you will see his journalistic commitment to the dream and his hope it will stay alive.
Before Dr. Wernher von Braun died in 1977 he answered the question “What practical return are we getting for the millions of dollars this country is spending for sending men to the moon?…One of the most immediate benefits noticed after the Apollo 10 victory is the reaction of the man in the street. This great national achievement had, I feel, a unifying effect on the nation at a time of unprecedented unrest. To the man, the reaction is ‘I am proud to be an American — to have been a part of sending men to the moon.’ ” (The Houston Post, by Wernher von Braun, July 21, 1969)
“My father was a member of the Team and we are very proud of him,” my sister said at my father’s memorial service in 1989.
fyi My latest NASA e-mail update was yesterday, July 23 and I’m looking for another one tomorrow. YES! There is one July 25. Will be looking tomorrow again.
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